Thursday, March 26, 2015

We are living in a material world and I am a material girl?

By Robert H.

So we might live in a computer simulation.  The best advice on what this means for how to live your life comes from Robin Hanson, with one big exception: the dude wants you to be too interesting.  For example

If you can identify an especially interesting event around you, you might also try to prevent it from ending, as the simulation might end soon after the event does.
If our descendants prefer their simulations to be entertaining, all else equal, then you should want you and the events around you to be entertaining as well, all else equal. "All the world's a stage, and the people merely players." Of course what is regarded as entertaining does vary somewhat across time and cultures, and our distant descendants' tastes will likely vary from ours as well. So one should emphasize widely shared features of entertaining stories. Be funny, outrageous, violent, sexy, strange, pathetic, heroic, ... in a word "dramatic." Being a martyr might even be a good thing for you, if that makes your story so compelling that other descendants will also want to simulation you. 

I think Hanson pays insufficient consideration to his reader's starting conditions.  If you know famous people, if you are at a historical event, if you are a famous person, of if you are dramatic and entertaining, I think it's worth considering whether you are in a short term simulation designed to entertain or explore something interesting.  In that situation, yes, your goal should be to keep all that stuff going.  The moment it gets boring or the event passes you will be shut off.

But for most people most of the time, their lives are boring and they are boring.  That's certainly true of most people currently reading an essay by Robin Hanson.  And there are only three reasons to simulate that:

1. Best case scenario: it is a very deep and computationally heavy simulation.  Someone is investigating something like "what if humans had evolved in a galaxy without other intelligent life," and getting it right means simming millions or billions of insignificant lives from birth to death.  That means you live in something very like what you thought your world was, and can keep living very much like you have been.  And how you have been living life is boring.

2. Middle scenario: Someone is simulating an important event or person, but getting it right means simulating the back story.  You are going to be famous, or influence someone famous, or be somewhere famous, or etc.  The advice here is obvious: stay boring and try to keep those around you boring.  Avoid interesting things.  As soon as the famous or interesting event happens you will be shut down, so avoid it happening.  Note that this is the exact opposite of a lot of Hanson's advice.  He wants you to be interesting or around the interesting, I want you to be boring.

You  may want to take this a step further.  If your creators notice that you are intentionally avoiding what they want to simulate, they might write you off as a loss.  Practice self deception.  Aim to be the sort of person who promises themself that they will do big and exciting things -- tomorrow.  But mostly I think this is unnecessary.  If you are being simmed in this scenario you are probably either going to end up doing what your masters want you doing (in which case your goal is to do it later) or else your creators are very insensitive to wasting computational power (in which case you should be less worried about being shut-down). 

3. Worse case scenario: You are an extra.  Something or someone interesting is happening right now and your creators are taking the time to sim you while you happen to walk by or be near the important event.  You are going to be turned off in a few minutes.  You are doomed.

Add it all up and my main advice for people worried about living in a simulation is, assuming they are living relatively boring and unimportant lives, to remain boring and unimportant.  Avoid going near anything interesting and get your kicks from media consumed by the masses.

As an aside, there is a fourth scenario: your creators are running you for ineffable reasons, for no particular reason, or for reasons totally independent of your actions (maybe you *were* in an event they were interested in simulating but now they are just keeping you running because they think turning you off is unethical).  But those aren't very fun to think about.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Why Has the Low Income Nuclear Family Disapeared?

By Robert H.

David Putnam wrote a book about how the nuclear family no longer exists among low-income Americans.  Why has this happened?

It's about shifting norms and the breakdown of morals.  Or no, it is a socio-economic thing.  Or no, maybe it is a norms thing since the poor were always with us and were always poor, so why would their marriage patterns diverge unless social norms diverged?  Etc. etc.

This is really bad analysis, and I've been seeing a lot of it on the internet.  We're really asking two questions here, and both have superficially easy legal answers. Question 1, Why did poor people stop getting married as much, starting around the 60's?  Superficially easy answer: women got other ways to make a living, at least in part because of they made employment discrimination illegal and expanded welfare, so they stopped prioritizing marriage.  Further, since the 60's it has become easier and easier to have a child out of wedlock and still get the father to be forced to support it, as states have signed onto UIFSA , increased resources to the attorneys general, increased enforcement sanctions, etc., so that's another reason to not prefer marriage.  Question 2, Why did the poor start splitting up more?  Superficially easy answer: they made no fault divorce legal

Again, those answers are superficial and would not hold up under in depth analysis.  But they are still important.  They would be a factor.  We are, after all, talking about enormous changes in American family structure coterminous with or preceded by enormous changes in American family law.  Make the connection! 

But how can legal changes lead to big changes in low-income family structures but not high income family structures?  Doesn't the law affect everyone?  Well, use your imagination!  You could argue, for example, that lower income people, unlike higher income people, always had a preference for more diffuse family groups, then legal changes starting the 60's finally let them express it.  Norms and economic pressures didn't change so much as they were revealed.   Alternately, perhaps some of these legal changes affected poor people more than affluent people.  For example, no-property divorces can be orders of magnitude cheaper and easier than divorces between people with significant assets.  Perhaps the shift to no-fault divorce made divorce a cheap and readily available option to poor people, but for the rich divorce is still often a long, grinding, economically damaging prospect, so the advent of no-fault divorce had much less of an effect.  Perhaps the creation of streamlined processes for adjudicating support lowered the cost of having an out-of-wedlock baby for low income people, but not high income people who still prefer the old, more expensive, arguably-worth-it rout of going to district court.  Etc. Etc.

Again, I'm not wedded to the argument that legal changes changed society.  The arrows normally run both ways there.  But arguing about this stuff without even addressing the massive legal changes is crazy!